Chapter 23

The Night Everything Changed

Part Two

“Dante?”

Dante stirred from his slumber as the cloak dropped around them. Blinking back the sleep, he caught sight of the twisted roots at their feet, a mesh of thick vines wrapped in sinew. His body trembled with a cry that never came, as his mother’s reassurance washed over him.

“This isn’t the forest,” she said. “You’ll have to walk the rest of the way on foot, though. The path ahead is too small for me to carry you. Just be careful when you get down though. The ground isn’t very even up here.”

Ahead of them, a dark hill rose against the dusk sky, a giant bulge of interconnected fibres that caused Dante’s stomach to lurch when he realised just how high they were. He could see the town to the right, a distant cluster of streetlights and houses, and, east of it, the towers of the Theatre and the rooftop gardens of the Ritches Estate.

He dropped from his mother’s back and caught her waist to steady himself. The path below was made up of the same bundle of roots and wires as the rest of the hill. Finding his balance, he dared a look back at the way they came. In his heart, he already knew the truth, but he had to see it with his own eyes, just to be sure.

The path ran down the hillside to the top of the Fourth Wall, which curved away beneath them until the dark shadows of Torhout Forest rose to devour it. And, as his eyes moved from the mark of Malkuthian expansion to that of the Donara, he caught sight of the smoke, the churning black columns of destruction that rose from the place he had called home. There were at least half a dozen of them, each one alive with the light of dancing hellfire. Dante’s breath caught in his throat.

His mother tugged at his jacket. “Focus on the path ahead,” she said.

A flash of white drew his attention to the horizon, as a shard of moonlight peeked out from between the clouds to survey the destruction. Trembling at the hint of Theia’s curse, Dante turned away. Ahead of him, his mother moved into a narrow crevice in the hillside, a tangle of petrified vines that reached out to engulf her. Afraid of losing her to the dark, he hurried after her.

The cavern walls were like nothing he knew from the world below. Each of the vines was made from smaller threads, woven together like rope, looking less like dirt or rock and more like the stringy insides of a pumpkin, drained of life and colour.

There was only one place they could be.

“This is the Scar,” he said.

“Yes,” replied his mother, “and we won’t be safe until we’re inside.”

Previous drafts detailed their journey to the Scar, but it was kinda boring (and forced) so…